" Less than half an hour away from the border, in the prolongation of the french riviera, there is a village sitting high above the mediterranean sea. Once the victim of an earthquake, it was rebuilt in the sixties by a bunch of hippyish artists, long haired and looking for a tower to host their dolce vita. Bussana Vecchia is the three by four streets town where I spent the last few days.
I met up with one of my oldest friends, his girlfriend and their daughter June to celebrate together her first year of being alive and their very quickly coming up new life in Montréal, Canada. Their upcoming departure comes with both a diffuse sadness and a sense of prospect : as those I love move away one by one, the strings that seem to hold me back here are cut off, leaving me with all the possibilities in the world. »
(Written on the train back. Fastforward two months.)
Italy started as a default choice for us, both easy to access for me as I had just moved back to Avignon and a possible step on the way back from Hungary and into France for them.
I found the house online by chance, the upper floor of a ceramics workshop (where, in my wildest dreams, I would learn with my newfound italian friend how to make the plates I love so dearly. It ended up being home to a colony of multicolored clay geckos crawling up and down the walls) with a terrace overlooking the sea and a barbecue where we could make puff pizzas. A half hour walk down the mountain took us to the sea and some mildly agreeable beaches where baby June could play and enjoy splashing sand into everyone’s food with big spurs of laughter.
The town itself is filled with interesting characters. Daniela our host, who almost kicked us out upon arrival because she had misread the booking numbers; her neighbor, an old man who shouted at us in italian from his balcony as we almost burned the place in a pathetic attempt to get the barbecue started; Luisa, an aging woman, one of the first to have moved back to Bussana back in the sixties, whose backyard is a botanical garden host to over a thousand different types of plants; or Anna, a french retired school teacher who invited us for tea and ended up having dinner with us, telling us about her three children, her dogs, the many different countries she had called home, the principles of astrology, and her teeth problems, all over panna filled pastries from Bussana Nuova.
We ate plenty and good, exactly as one may imagine when picturing a week in Italy : homemade mini pizzas (made in a panini maker, the barbecue attempt was an enormous failure) with fresh basil, tomatoes, grilled eggplant (also in the panini maker) and pine nuts; olive raviolis cooked in sage, chickpea flour fries, pasta with pesto, all of it drenched in Nero D’Avola, my favorite Sicilian wine. We did little else than eat, talk, walk up and down the hill, and play with June as she learns to walk, put small things into bigger things, dance while sitting on the floor and make strange sounds with her mouth.
Experiencing clichés is one of the greatest feelings I know, and always reminds me of a Victor Hugo quote stating that clichés are the closest thing to sublimity. Being a french girl who wears black dresses and breton stripes, drinks red wine with dinner, read Notre Dame de Paris and watches Godard movies, I consider myself an authority on the subject. Yes, I bike to the bakery, buy my produce from the market on Sundays and grew up on cheese, butter, croissants and crusty baguettes. So if I go to Italy, you bet I’m going to have pasta, pizza, Sicilian wine, and never ending meals on a terrace.
I started writing this in the train riding back to Avignon with, overhead, a backpack filled with pasta and olives to share with Nuno once at home.
Other than the pasta, there are a few other things I took back with me : sun drenched stoned paved streets covered in plants and paintings, an ever renewed love and care for my friends and their daughter, and a desire to go back, a newfound taste for Italy and its messiness, its deeply rooted, colorful chaos that makes it so lovable.
For now, the easiest way of getting a little taste of Italy is just that, taste. Nuno and I have a tradition we like to call « Italian Tuesday » which consists of eating an Italian dish, drinking Italian wine while listening to Adriano Celentano and then watching an Italian film of his choosing.
A recipe for ricotta gnocchi with onion jam I have made for that tradition of ours is on the blog. As for the filmic and musical recommendations, we always listen to Adriano Celentano (Try "I want to know", "Azzuro" and "24000 baci" for a good start), but "Tu vuo fa l'Americano" is also a must. I will put together a proper playlist some day soon.
In terms of films, think Fellini, "Viaggio in Italia", "Il surpasso" or Audrey Hepburn's "Roman holiday" for a retro feel. "La grande belleza", "Habemus Papam" or "The talented Mr Ripley" are more modern and easy to watch but great nonetheless.